Term Is Stiff For Accessory To Holdup A N.e. Phila. Man Got 46 Months For His Role In Disposing Of Evidence. The Jewelry Store Owner Was Left Paralyzed.

Posted: March 06, 1999

In front of U.S. District Judge Robert F. Kelly, a Northeast Philadelphia man expressed remorse yesterday for his actions after a 1996 jewelry store robbery and shooting that left the shop owner paralyzed from the chest down.

Then, as he left the courtroom after being sentenced to 46 months in prison, Ernest Fluehr, who pleaded guilty in May to getting rid of evidence from the holdup, looked at shooting victim Mark Chilutti and his family, clapped his hands, and said: ``I hope you're all happy.''

``That doesn't faze me,'' said Chilutti, 30, who has been confined to a wheelchair since was shot in his store on Dec. 5, 1996. ``He's going to prison. I am happy. That's the place he should be.''

The judge said that sentencing was difficult because Fluehr did not participate in the brutal robbery at M&M Jewelers on Frankford Avenue in Mayfair.

``This is not easy, and a lot of time and care has gone into it by everyone concerned,'' Kelly said.

The sentence was stiffer than usual for someone who had pleaded guilty to being an accessory after the fact.

Three other men pleaded guilty for their roles in the crime. Triggerman Charles Zimmerman, who is serving a 20-year sentence, and Michael Lynch, who was sentenced to eight years, were captured on the store's videotape as Lynch smashed display cases and Zimmerman marched Chilutti to a back room, where he shot him, severing his spine. A third man, Dennis Foley, who was sentenced to more than 13 years, drove the getaway car.

After the holdup, the three went to a house where a relative of Foley's lived. There, Foley summoned Fluehr, who took the gun, some bloody clothes, and the jewelry and disposed of them. The stolen jewelry, worth $50,000, has not been recovered.

At yesterday's sentencing, defense lawyer Louis Savino Jr. argued that Fluehr, whose family operates a funeral business, should be sent to a federal boot camp, which usually requires a sentence of less than 30 months. There was no evidence, Savino said, that Fluehr knew of the robbery and shooting when he took possession of the items.

But FBI special agent Robert Wittman testified that in an interview in March 1997, Fluehr said Foley told him that there had been a holdup and that someone had been shot.

Fluehr's sentencing was complex because the crime he was charged with, being an accessory after the fact, is not considered a violent offense.

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Wzorek's argument that Fluehr knew of the violent nature of the robbery persuaded Kelly to impose the 46-month term rather than the 10 to 16 months he would have received if a gun had not been used and no one had been hurt.

Chilutti told Kelly that Fluehr did not deserve leniency.

``I can only feel or control 20 percent of my body,'' Chilutti said. ``While this sentence may be precedent-setting, it needs to be set. I'm going to live a long life . . . and I'll feel the effects of what all the defendants did every day.

``In 8 1/2 minutes, I was given life in a wheelchair,'' he said, referring to the amount of time he was held at gunpoint before he was shot.

Shortly after the robbery, Chilutti said, he was forced to close his store. Now he speaks at schools, warning against the perils of gun violence, and he has aided State Rep. Dwight Evans, a mayoral candidate, during public meetings on the topic.

``Mark has been a big contributor,'' said Evans, who was in court yesterday. ``He's been at public hearings I've had on gun violence in schools and the neighborhoods. He's been there for me, when I called and I wanted to be here for him. I compare him to James Brady.''

Brady was seriously wounded in 1981 during John Hinckley's assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan. Brady campaigned for gun-control legislation that bears his name.

Chilutti said he was relieved to have the final sentencing from the robbery behind him. But he added: ``There's never full closure to something like this.''

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